Was paddling excessive punishment? By Riley Yates, theMorningCall.com, September 9, 2008

A Bethlehem Township man beats his 13-year-old grandson with wooden paddles after the boy reportedly misbehaves.

Abuse? Or just tough love?

That is the question before jurors in a trial that opened Monday in Northampton County Court against Valentino L. Thomas, 61, who faces felony child endangerment, simple assault and harassment charges in connection with the Nov. 12, 2007, punishment of his grandson, then an eighth-grader at East Hills Middle School.

Pennsylvania law does not ban corporal punishment altogether, prohibiting it only if it risks death, serious bodily injury, disfigurement, or severe pain, mental anguish or degradation.

Thomas' attorney, Eric Dowdle, said what Thomas did to his grandson is none of those. He characterized the boy as troubled and manipulative, saying he had been expelled from Allentown schools and was living with his grandparents to turn his life around and get away from gangs.

Ten times in the past the boy had called state child protective services on his mother to avoid being punished by her, Dowdle said.

''Endangering the welfare of a child is not a spanking,'' Dowdle told jurors during opening statements. ''Endangering the welfare of a child is letting the child go and do what he wants.''

Prosecutor Jacqueline Taschner said the boy's injuries were bad enough that he was sent to St. Luke's Hospital for a possible broken wrist.

The case's lead investigator, Bethlehem Township officer Jeremy Anderson, testified that the boy had a scratch on his cheek, welts on his forearm and red buttocks from being spanked by two wood paddles, each a half-inch thick. The teen's wrist was not broken.

Thomas ''kept saying he beat the boy and he deserved to be beaten,'' said Anderson, who described the grandfather as ''enraged'' and out of control.

Taschner also played a tape of the boy's 911 call, in which he said: ''My granddaddy, he's about to beat me down.''

Dowdle highlighted the calm voice the boy used during the call, and also the testimony of a child protective services investigator, who said Monday that her office concluded that abuse hadn't occurred.

Testimony continues today, with the jury expected to begin deliberations on Wednesday.

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